Ahead of tomorrow's big game against Chelsea, I spoke to Graham MacAree of SBNation's Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History about the current form, strengths, and weaknesses of Chelsea FC. I think he provides some pretty darn good insight into what's going on at Chelsea so far this year. Read away, kiddies.
Kevin McCauley: To start the season, Chelsea came out guns blazing. They looked like sure-fire Premier League favorites and only the Spanish giants were expected to challenge them in the Champions League. Now, the team is in virtual free fall. Where did it all go wrong?
Graham MacAree: Well, the first crack in the armour came when Frank Lampard limped off in tears against Stoke in the third week of the season. Since then, the injury bug has bitten several more players (quite literally, in Drogba's case), and the rest of them haven't been able to play well enough to keep up. I think if you'd put a gun to my head and asked who Chelsea's five most important players for the season would be, I'd have replied with Michael Essien, Ashley Cole, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba. Of those, only Cole and Mikel have been consistently fit, and Mikel's play has been slightly wayward in the matches he's had to deal with a weakened midfield. So I guess the answer is that we got hurt pretty badly and nothing miraculous has happened to save us.
KM: How much of the blame for Chelsea's run of form falls on Carlo Ancelotti?
GM: The blame for the recent poor run? Unless he's taking hacksaws to our players, it's hard to put much of this on his shoulders. I've had some issues with his subsitutions (i.e. Sturridge ever, McEachran never), but they're not what's costing the team games. I'm going to go with this recent run being 10% Ancelotti, with a quick reminder to Chelsea fans that he did win the league and cup double while getting the side to play almost miraculous attacking football for almost the entirety of his career here. Let's not let what, a month and a half colour our judgement too badly.
KM: How bad do things have to get before the boss man seriously considers going in a different direction?
GM: I don't want to pretend like I can imagine what goes on in Roman Abramovich's mind, but my feeling is that Ancelotti has a pretty long rope. What will happen, though, is that the relationship will become increasingly fractious and maybe Ancelotti will simply call it quits like Mourinho did. This isn't a Scolari situation, especially with Ancoltti only the fifth manager ever to win a Premier League title. I made that up, but I think it's right.
KM: Of the available teams for you to draw, who would you most like to see in the Champions League round of 16?
GM: Pretty much anyone except for AC Milan. It would actually be pretty interesting to draw Inter - we'd have the whole revenge thing going on as well as a 'let's see how good you are with some fat guy rather than Jose Mourinho as manager you stripy sons of *****' narrative. Yeah, let's go with Inter. I'm feeling good about Europe.
PS: I will be kidnapping Wesley Sneidjer first, though.
KM: Has John Terry ever shagged any of your girlfriends?
GM: I've never played on the team as England's Brave John Terry, so I think I'm safe.
KM: Attempt to explain your utter contempt for Ramires without cursing.
GM: There's a perception that I hate Ramires totally which I don't think is entirely fair. He has been awful in maybe 70% of the game he's played in, and I've pointed this out repeatedly, but I think he might be able to develop pretty well. English football has a notorious adjustment period, and he's really new here. That said, I haven't been thoroughly impressed by his performances in a Brazil shirt, either. I guess I'm willing to give him more time than he's had, since he obviously has the talent to come good on his transfer fee. That won't stop me shouting at him while a game's going on though.
KM: Due to the English media taking every opportunity to pleasure him through writing, everyone knows about Josh McEachran. How good is he?
GM: He's good, but needs a little work. Chelsea's younsters, for some reason, have a tackling problem - they can't seem to take the ball off their opponents and also forget that their opponents can take it off them. McEachran's been guilty of losing the ball in stupid places (most notably in the last minute of the 0-0 draw against Aston Villa, which gave Nigel Reo-Coker a free run at Petr Cech), and his attempts at challenging for the ball have been pretty laughable sometimes.
But really, that's all that's wrong with him. With Lampard injury, he's Chelsea's best passer, which is really high praise considering he's 17 years old. He's composed, intelligent, and has the ability to pick people out. I have no idea how players like this develop, but he reminds me of Paul Scholes with the "insane leg-breaking tackles from a crazy ginger" box left unchecked.
KM: What do you think of what Chelsea is doing tactically right now? Is there anything you would change?
GM: Plan B is not working. Plan B is stupid. When Chelsea are chasing matches, they switch to 4-1-5 and start pumping long balls over the top for Drogba and Anelka to run onto. This would work better if Anelka was playing as a lone striker, because Drogba is currently still malarial playing nowhere near his usual standards while getting in Anelka's way. Instead of pulling the 'let's completely ignore midfield' trick I would instead play McEachran a lot more.
GM: He won't be, because Alex is hurt, and the likelihood of Ancelotti ever starting Jeffrey Bruma is so low FIFA wouldn't even vote yes on it. But Paulo Ferreira's a better defensive back than Bosingwa is anyway. I think he might have started even without the hamstring injury, but thanks to really really really stupid team selection on Wednesday we'll never know. But you'll get your Bale-Ferreira matchup and it makes me kind of sad.
KM: Doesn't it feel odd that Spurs aren't underdogs going into a league match against Chelsea?
GM: No, not really. I think if you took any Chelsea fan who's been around since before Abramovich, they'd tell you they have a nagging fear that they're living in a magical bubble that might pop at any second sending us tumbling back to blissful, hilarious mediocrity. So no, this feels more normal than usual, to be honest.
KM: Finally, a prediction of Sunday's result?
GM: 3-1 Spurs, 2-0 at halftime and y'all cantering to a win. Yeah, I'm trying to jinx you.
Thanks to Graham for participating. I answered some of his questions of well and I'll link you when he posts them.